Tag Archives: South Dakota League

“One of the Two Greatest Sluggers”

28 Jan

On July 19, 1920, Babe Ruth hit his 30th home run of the season off Dickie Kerr of the Chicago White Sox, breaking the Major League record he had set the previous season.  Perry Werden, working as an umpire in the South Dakota League was largely forgotten.

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth

The Minneapolis Tribune, as a point of local pride, reminded readers that Ruth had not eclipsed the record set in their town:

“Beyond all doubt the mark made yesterday is a major league record of all time but the Babe has yet to equal the mark of 45 made by Perry Werden of the Minneapolis Western League club in 1895.”

Some reporters, like Al Spink of The Sporting News, dismissed Werden because “the park at Minneapolis, which was an unusually small inclosure (sic), with the right and left field fences close in.”  Regardless, Werden was back in the public eye; his forgotten record was revived as fans followed Ruth’s record season.  The Associated Press said:

“(Werden) admits that Babe Ruth has a harder swing than he had when he made his mark. ‘There is no doubt that Babe has it on all of them—modern and ancient’ says Werden”

When Ruth hit numbers 45 and 46, one in each game of a double-header at Fenway Park, The Associated Press said:

“(Ruth) broke all known world’s records for circuit drives in a single season.”

Werden, in his role as “the former holder of the home run record for organized baseball” was often asked about Ruth over the next decade.  Werden called Ruth “One of the two greatest sluggers that I have seen in fifty years.”

Perry Werden, 1930

Perry Werden, 1930

The only player Werden considered Ruth’s equal?   Ed Delahanty.

Werden told The North American Newspaper Alliance, in a nationally syndicated story:

“Ed Delahanty would have equaled or bettered the home run record of Babe Ruth if the lively ball had been in use…If Delahanty had any weakness no pitcher ever found out what it was.  He hit left-handers as easy and effectively as he did right-handers, and it made no difference to him where they threw the ball—high, low, inside, outside, curve fast ball or slow ball—they all looked alike to Big Ed.”

Werden said while playing first base for the Saint Louis Browns he saw just how hard Delahanty could hit:

“The Phillies had a runner on first base, and when Delahanty came up to bat we played in close for him, thinking he would bunt.  That was a mistake we never made again when Delahanty batted.  Instead of bunting he hit a ground ball so hard that it tore a shoe off George Pinkney, our third baseman, in addition to fracturing his right ankle.”

As further proof Werden said “Even with the lively ball…it was thirty-six years before Delahanty’s record of hitting four home runs in a single game was equaled by Lou Gehrig.”  Werden didn’t mention that Bobby Lowe had accomplished the same feat two years before Delahanty.

Ed Delahanty

Ed Delahanty

While Werden will never join Delahanty and Ruth in the Hall of Fame, he is remembered as one of the greatest minor league players of the 19th Century.  He died in Minneapolis in 1934.

“King of the Natural Hitters”

25 Jan

Percival Wheritt “Perry” “Moose” Werden began his baseball career as a pitcher for the semi-professional team of his employer; the Ira Perry Pie Company in Saint Louis.  He was discovered by the St. Louis Browns who offered him a contract but ultimately signed with the Saint Louis Maroons in the Union Association.

(An oft-repeated story that Werden’s discovery involved him leaving a pie wagon unattended to join a game, resulting in the wagon being destroyed is almost certainly apocryphal, although it has been repeated as fact with little or no support by several writers)

In 1884 the 22-year-old was 12-1 with a 1.97 for the Maroons who at 94-19 won the Union Association pennant by 21 games; despite the strong start, Werden would never pitch in the Major Leagues again.

The Maroons joined the National League the following season and Werden ended up with the Memphis Reds in the Southern League.  He was primarily a catcher a first baseman, and his career as a pitcher pretty much ended; he appeared on the mound in only three games that season and had only 14 more minor league appearances over the next 10 years because of arm trouble.

Perry Werden, 1908

Perry Werden, 1908

From 1886-88, Werden played with five minor league teams and played three games in the National League with Washington in 1888.  In 1889, Werden joined the Toledo Black Pirates in the International League, where he became a great hitter.

Werden hit .394 for Toledo; in 424 at-bats, he had 167 hits, which was the hit record for the franchise for nearly 100 years, finally broken by Greg “Boomer” Wells in 1982 (Wells had 182 hits in 541 at-bats).

Toledo became a Major League franchise the following season, joining the American Association as the Maumees, Werden was the their starting first baseman, hit .295 and led the team in hits, runs, triples, and RBIs.  The Maumees finished 68-64 in their only season.

Werden was sold by Toledo to the Baltimore Orioles in 1891 and had another solid season, leading the team in hits, triples and RBI’s.  The following season he was signed by the Saint Louis Browns to replace Charles Comiskey at first base; Comiskey had jumped the Browns to join the Cincinnati Reds.

Werden hit .256 and .290 in two seasons with the Browns.  In 1894, he returned to the minor leagues with the Minneapolis Minnies in the Western League.  That’s where he became a legend.

In 1894, Werden exploded.  He hit .417 with 43 home runs.  In 1895, he improved to .428 with 45 home runs.

The Western League was no doubt a hitter’s league; eight players with at least 100 at-bats hit .400 or better in 1894 and 11 did so in 1895.  And the Minnies home field, Athletic Park, where Werden hit most of his home runs, was by all estimates a hitter’s paradise with a short (some sources say 250 feet) fence.

Regardless, 45 home runs would remain a professional baseball record until 1920. The Duluth News-Tribune said several years later that Werden hit seven home runs in a double-header in 1895; under the headline “Perry Werden was King of the Natural Hitters:”

“It was one of the greatest batting feats ever seen on a baseball lot anywhere.”

Werden had one last season in the Major Leagues.  At 35-years-old in 1897, he hit .301 for the Louisville Colonels, then returned to the minor leagues where he continued to hit well; .330 for his minor league career.

Werden became an umpire in the American Association in 1907, and became a baseball pioneer in 1908 when he joined the Indianapolis Indians in the same league; he was one of the first full-time coaches in professional baseball.  The Associated Press said:

“Perry Werden will go to Indianapolis to act as assistant manager, coach and advisor in general of the Indianapolis baseball club this year.”

In October The Indianapolis News declared Werden a success in the new role:

“Werden was one of the biggest factors in bringing Indianapolis her first pennant since 1902.  Without his services it’s highly probable the flag would have flown elsewhere”

The Indianapolis Star predicted that Werden’s “novel position,” would become the norm with the Indians, and throughout baseball.

Werden eventually returned to umpiring, working in the western, Dakota, South Dakota and Northern leagues.

His 43 home run season became news again in 1920 as Babe Ruth was closing in on Werden’s professional record.  Werden said there was one player in his era who was Ruth’s equal as a hitter.  Who was it?

Read about it on Monday.